Review – Conan the Barbarian (2011)
– by Shawn Conner
A great barbarian movie is practically indistinguishable from a terrible one, Robin Bougie recently wrote. Unfortunately, Conan the Barbarian is neither; steadfastedly mediocre, the 2011 Conan raises pulses just enough to keep the moviegoer awake in between bloodlettings, tavern scenes, anachronistic dialogue and the most unnecessary use of 3D in recent (well, the last two weeks, anyway) memory.
In short, it’s the perfect end-of-summer blockbuster.
To briefly recap the real-world mythos: Conan is the creation of one Robert E. Howard, an American pulp novelist who wrote his sword-and-sorcery fantasies during the ‘30s. The series was resurrected, or maybe rescued is the better word, by publishing company Lancer and perhaps more importantly, by illustrator Frank Frazetta, whose wonderfully primal paintings adorned a series of ‘60s paperback reissues.
In the ‘70s, Roy Thomas resuscitated the character for a Marvel comic book series; in 1982, producer Dino De Laurentiis released the first Conan movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, which gave rise to a 1984 sequel, along with a number of imitators (indeed, it could be argued that Howard’s barbarian has given rise to more bad art in the last four decades than any other pop culture character).
Perhaps the best thing that can be said about Conan the Barbarian 2011 is that it isn’t terrible. The fight scenes aren’t great, but they’re okay, and the storyline isn’t inventive or original but it is fast-paced enough to keep us supplied with a steady stream of blood and bare boobs.
In the title role, Jason Momoa – who had so much more to work with in last year’s HBO series Game of Thrones – brings just a hint of humour to the absurdity. Rose McGowan, as an evil sorceress with natty hair horns, chews the scenery as if it’s the best she’s ever tasted; Stephen Lang as her nasty dad and chief villain Khalar Zym seems to have studied Terence Stamp as Zod in Superman 2. Not a bad role model for a baddie.
Sadly, director Marcus Nispel appears to have forgotten to tell Rachel Nichols, who plays the “pure blood” good girl Tamara, that she’s in a sword-and-sorcery epic set in a distant land a long time ago, and not in an L.A. Starbucks. And poor Ron Perlman acts as though he knows that, if there were any justice, he’d be in Hellboy 3 this summer, and not this goofy trifle.
But, as mentioned, Conan the Barbarian is an agreeable enough summer 2011 footnote. Moviegoers already bludgeoned out of their wits by giant robots, high-concept buddy movies and two-hour commercials for next year’s Avengers flick will surely be able to suffer through two hours of clanging steel and Momoa’s pecs.